Authors: Cindy Davis
On the Hook
Smith and Westen Mysteries, Book 1
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
On the Hook
COPYRIGHT © 2014 by Cindy Davis
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
PO Box 708
Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com
First Mainstream Mystery Edition, 2014
Print ISBN 978-1-62830-329-2
Digital ISBN 978-1-62830-330-8
Smith and Westen Mysteries, Book 1
Published in the United States of America
Praise for Cindy Davis
“One of those stories that is so beautifully written you forget you are reading it; you must know what happens.”
~Long and Short Reviews
“Davis takes what looks to be a simple murder mystery and adds enough twists and turns to produce a real whodunit readers will be challenged to figure out. Characters are solidly developed and dimensional, the plot fast-paced and peppered with suspense.”
~Midwest Book Reviews
“In six words Cindy Davis grabs her reader’s attention in a death-defying situation. ‘Our van sailed over the embankment...’ For anyone who enjoys murder, mystery and suspense this is a book for you. Once you pick it up, you’ll find it hard to put down again, so make sure you give yourself plenty of ‘me’ time and enjoy the way Cindy Davis unfolds her plots and her characters capture your imagination.”
~Long and Short Reviews
For my wonderful, steadfast husband
whose unfailing encouragement is the only reason
I am an author.
Kendra Jean Valentine’s eyes were burning and her back was aching. Not to mention she was about to have a pee-gasm. Nine hours of staring at the rear end of a semi can do that to a person. Her entire reputation was wrapped up in the contents of that twenty-foot trailer. If anything happened to it she hated to think what her future would look like. Worst case: she’d end up in jail; lesser case, she’d have to pay back the insurance companies. No problem—at her current salary, repaying a hundred million dollars would only take two or three centuries.
“What are you laughing at?” asked Theo, one of the guards helping with the transport.
“You laughed. I wondered what was so funny.”
“Nothing. I am so glad this trip is almost over.” They’d stopped at an intersection less than a block from the Concord Art Museum.
“Just a minute more.”
“Good thing. The curator’s got to be freaking out. We’re almost an hour behind schedule.”
“You couldn’t predict there’d be an accident on the highway.”
Up ahead, the left blinker of the big truck came on, flashing red inside their car. As he’d done all day, Theo kept their car within twenty feet of the trailer as it turned into the driveway of the art museum and maneuvered down a graded lot and around the building. “Hey Phil,” Theo called to a second guard dozing in the back seat. “Rise and shine.”
For the first time since leaving Buffalo, KJ lost sight of the doors of the trailer as the truck swung forward, stopped, then eased back to the loading dock. She’d said she was glad the trip was over. He had no comprehension of how glad. This was the first thing she’d done entirely on her own—that she’d dared do. Pretty sad when you think about it—taking thirty-eight years to grow some balls.
“Hey,” Theo pushed dark curls off his face, “after we’re done here, I wondered if you’d like to go for a drink and maybe dinner.”
He was good looking and seemed like a nice guy. Plus, he smelled great. She thought it was a cologne called America, scented with sage and cedar—like a Boy Scout’s kitchen. The thought made her smile. But right now KJ couldn’t think of anything but getting that painting into curator Henderson McGee’s hands.
“Sorry,” Theo said, “I guess I misread your signals.”
“No. Yes. Actually, I’m seeing someone. As a matter of fact, I think we’re moving in together.”
“In that case, I wish you the best of luck.”
KJ patted his arm, hopped out and raced up the cement steps, followed closely by Theo and Phil. Behind them were the two guards who’d driven the lead car in front of the transport truck.
She stood on the dock flexing her stiff and aching limbs as one of the drivers stretched up to undo the special seal she’d put on the trailer doors when they began the second leg of the journey in Buffalo that morning. Only four hundred odd miles away—not that far in the grand scheme of things—but it felt like they’d driven across the entire United States.
The art museum’s loading door rumbled open; it vibrated the cement dock and up through KJ’s two-hundred-dollar Anne Kleins. The curator, Henderson McGee, ducked under the door before it was halfway up.
Rather than the intense glee she expected, the round, white-bearded man was wearing a serious expression. Had something happened? Was the exhibit canceled? He would’ve phoned to let her know. Unless it was very bad news…
“Where have you been? You’re over an hour late.”
“I—” KJ started.
Theo intervened. “We were caught in a traffic jam. There was a crash on the highway. Nothing serious, but it caused a delay.”
“You should’ve called.”
“Yes.” Theo stepped aside and out of the conversation. Henderson gave a reluctant nod.
KJ appreciated Theo’s help but it wasn’t necessary. She could handle any man. Theo shot her a look of admiration and she couldn’t help smiling. Maybe she would take him up on the dinner offer after all. Brett couldn’t be jealous of two cohorts relaxing after a long, stressful job. Once the painting was signed into the museum’s possession, she’d tell Theo she changed her mind.
Finally. The long journey to expand culture in New Hampshire was here. KJ couldn’t wait for Henderson to view the painting they’d all worked so hard to bring. In a minute, she’d phone Chicago to say they’d arrived. Tonight they’d unload and catalog the artwork. Tomorrow would be the unveiling to the public. The museum had planned a huge to-do. Famous people from both the art world and even a couple of dignitaries would be here. KJ would wear the first dress she’d ever had tailored just for her.
The trailer door slid up. And there it was in all its ordinariness—a six-foot cube-shaped pine wood crate—that seriously belied the value of the Picasso reposing inside. The drivers clanged a pair of metal ramps in place from the dock to the truck. Theo unhooked the stabilizing lines that extended from the sides of the truck to the crate, then wedged a dolly under the crate.
He and his partner wheeled the box down the ramps, across the dock, and into the big echoing warehouse where sixteen people—museum board members and financial supporters, no reporters till tomorrow—stood wearing business suits and expectant expressions.
KJ wanted to open the crate right there on the spot. She had never been so tired. Or so relieved to have something over with—not even her first divorce. Cold air shushed through the unheated room, making her shiver, but her entire body was sweating—even between her fingers.
Henderson McGee skimmed a palm over the wood as if the crate itself were the Holy Grail. He shook hands with the two truck drivers. “I’ll take over from here, men. You go get some sleep. You’ve done a fabulous job.” He shot her a wide grin as the drivers left the building. “Kendra Jean, you can leave too. You’ve gone above and beyond.”
“A crane couldn’t drag me away right now!” She handed Henderson the key that would open the crate.
He waited a few seconds so the sound of the departing semi wouldn’t interfere with the regal moment. He pushed the key toward her. “You should be the one to do the honors. None of this would have taken place if not for you.”
She held her hands in the air. “You do it.” He obviously took her act as one of courtesy, but the fact was she had to pee so badly she didn’t dare move from that spot.
He slipped the key into the lock and twisted. Though twenty-two people were now gathered around the crate, the soft click of the lock could be heard clearly. Henderson made a show of hanging the lock on the hasp. He turned to the gathering, tweaked each corner of his mustache then took in a breath. “We—Kendra Jean and I—had eloquent speeches planned, but in view of the hour, we’ll postpone it till tomorrow.”
There was a soft chorus of applause. Henderson McGee lifted the lid. Suspended in the middle of the box was a wooden compartment as unremarkable looking as the crate. Inside the compartment, encased in a velvet bag and countless layers of bubble wrap, would be Picasso’s
The Old Guitarist
, insured at the Art Institute of Chicago for one hundred million dollars.
The painting should’ve been there.
The compartment was empty.
A gasp and one high-pitched squeal, probably hers, echoed around the room.
KJ’s knees buckled. Henderson clutched her elbow before she toppled from the expensive shoes. She rubbed her eyes, not caring if the makeup smudged. But when KJ looked again the crate was still empty.
Henderson’s grip tightened, his fingers dug into her flesh. “Where is the painting?” He shook her. “Where is it?”
“Sh—I—How—” was all that would squeeze from her stunned vocal chords. It didn’t matter what she said. A cacophony of human sound had broken out around them.
“Get those drivers back here!” Henderson yelled over the din.
One of the guards dashed from the building. A moment later, he could be heard shouting, probably into a radio.
“Somebody call the police,” a voice said.
The next four hours were a swirling mass in her brain. The truck was brought back. A squadron of police arrived. They inspected the trailer and the crate. They questioned the guards and drivers. They sent everyone home, then hauled her to headquarters where she sat. And sat.
At 6:15 a.m. an interrogator arrived. The pucker-faced woman spent nearly three hours questioning KJ. The only positive thing that happened in all that time: she was allowed to go to the ladies room. Now, she had to go again.
Weary beyond belief, and equally as baffled, at 9:30 KJ left the building. She considered going home, but she’d only pace and worry and pace some more. Besides, she had an appointment in forty-five minutes. She could break it, but what was the point? The meeting with Ben Hughes’s widow had been postponed twice already.
KJ hailed a cab and gave directions to the NH Property and Casualty Insurance Corporation building. She asked the driver to wait while she retrieved her briefcase and laptop. All the way up in the elevator, she prayed nobody would be there. She didn’t want to—okay, couldn’t—face any of them right now. They might not come right out and verbally blame her, but they’d be thinking it. The thoughts would be etched on each face. Especially her direct supervisor, Cliff Barnett. On a normal day, he jumped at the slightest chance to tear her down. An event of this magnitude…KJ couldn’t think about it.